What Does Undernourished Mean? Unlocking the Truth.

What Does Undernourished Mean? Unlocking the Truth

Undernourishment is a medical condition that occurs when people do not consume enough nutrients to meet their body’s requirements. Undernutrition is characterized by poor physical growth and overall health, reduced immune function, and undesirable developmental results. Chronic undernourishment can result from inadequate food intake or poor nutrient absorption, and it frequently affects people in poor nations.

Defining Undernourishment

Undernourishment is a clinical condition created by an insufficient intake of energy, protein, and other essential nutrients. Although it has no clear definition, undernourishment is measured using a variety of indicators, such as low birth weight, stunted growth, and wasting. A person is considered undernourished if they do not receive enough nutrients to sustain growth and health.

The Different Types of Undernourishment

Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM)

Protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) is a type of undernourishment that results from consuming insufficient protein and energy. PEM is characterized by severe muscle wasting, low weight for age, stunted growth, and a weak immune system. In infants, it can cause marasmus, a type of undernutrition that causes severe wasting leading to death if left untreated.

Micronutrient Deficiencies

Undernourishment can also result from a micronutrient deficiency. Such deficiencies occur when individuals consume sufficient calories but lack essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, leading to stunted growth and related health complications.

Hidden Hunger

The term “hidden hunger” refers to chronic undernourishment resulting from a lack of micronutrients. Hidden hunger occurs when an individual’s diet does not provide enough micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, needed for good health. It can cause long-term health problems that are more difficult to address than immediate malnutrition.

How is Undernourishment Measured?

The most reliable way to measure undernourishment is by analyzing people’s weight-for-height or height-for-age. These measurements provide a quick and easy way to assess whether an individual is undernourished.


Stunting is defined as being too short for one’s age. It is an indication of chronic undernourishment that occurred during early childhood. Stunting affects brain development and decreases cognitive capacity, making it difficult for people to learn and perform in school and work.


Wasting is the weakening and loss of body size, especially muscle tissue, in comparison to height. It is a sign of acute undernourishment and is caused by a combination of insufficient food intake and infections. Wasting can lead to death if left untreated.

The Causes of Undernourishment

Undernourishment is typically caused by a lack of access to adequate nutrition. There are numerous causes of undernourishment, including:

  • Poverty
  • War and conflict
  • Climate change and environmental disasters
  • Inadequate access to healthcare and education

The Effects of Undernourishment

The effects of undernourishment on the human body can be catastrophic. Some health problems caused by undernourishment include:

  • Developmental delays
  • Poor physical growth
  • Stunted brain development
  • Risk of chronic diseases
  • Infections and disease
  • Increased mortality rates

Developmental Delays

Undernourishment during infancy can cause permanent developmental abnormalities that increase the risk of cognitive impairment, mental illness, physical disability, and other diseases later in life.

What Can be Done to Prevent Undernourishment?

Improving Nutrition

The most effective way to combat undernourishment is to ensure that people have access to adequate nutrition. This can be done by introducing various measures, including:

  • Sufficiency of food and water
  • Education on adequate nutrition
  • Access to medical care
  • Promoting health equity

Improving Agriculture and Food Security

By investing in local agriculture, we can increase food security, While at the same time ensuring that people living in poverty have access to sufficient and nutritious food. This also helps establish long-term solutions to undernourishment challenges.


Undernourishment is a significant problem that affects millions worldwide. Despite this, the condition is preventable, and measures can be taken to reduce its prevalence. A more equitable world would be one where nobody went hungry, and by addressing the root causes and developing long-term solutions to combat undernourishment, we can realize this vision.

Questions and Answers about Undernourishment

  • Q: What is undernourishment?
    A: Undernourishment is a clinical condition created by an insufficient intake of energy, protein, and other essential nutrients. Individuals who do not consume enough nutrients to maintain their body’s healthy growth and function can suffer from undernourishment.
  • Q: What are the causes of undernourishment?
    A: There are numerous causes of undernourishment, including poverty, climate change and environmental disasters, war and conflict, and the inadequate access to healthcare and education.
  • Q: What are the effects of undernourishment on the body?
    A: Undernourishment can cause poor physical growth, stunted brain development, developmental delays, infections, diseases, and mortality.


  • Undernutrition. (2021). World Health Organization. Retrieved 30 August 2021, from https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/undernutrition
  • Bhutta, Z. A., Das, J. K., Rizvi, A., Gaffey, M. F., Walker, N., Horton, S., … & Group, T. L. N. L. B. S. (2013). Evidence-based interventions for improvement of maternal and child nutrition: what can be done and at what cost?. The lancet, 382(9890), 452-477.

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